Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why Autistic Children Do Not Imitate Or Empathize: It Could Be A Dysfunctional Mirror-neuron System

Date:
May 4, 2007
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
New imaging research shows that impairments in autistic children's ability to imitate and empathize can be linked to dysfunction in the brain's mirror-neuron system.

New imaging research at UCLA shows that impairments in autistic children's ability to imitate and empathize can be linked to dysfunction in the brain's mirror-neuron system. In research to be presented May 4 at the annual International Meeting for Autism Research in Seattle, UCLA scientists demonstrated a clear link between a child's inability to imitate expressions on the faces of other people and a lack of activity in the mirror-neuron system (MNS).

Related Articles


Mirror neurons fire when an individual performs an action with a goal in mind. They also fire when one watches another individual perform that same action. Neuroscientists believe this "mirroring" is the neural mechanism by which the actions, intentions and emotions of other people can be automatically understood.

Individuals with autism can't rely on this system to read the minds of other people. Symptoms of autism include varying levels of difficulty with social interaction, including verbal and nonverbal communication, imitation, and empathy. These findings bolster the growing body of evidence that points to a breakdown of the MNS as the mechanism behind these symptoms.

"These results support the notion that a dysfunctional mirror-neuron system may underlie the impairments in imitation and in empathizing with other people's emotions typically seen in autism," said Mirella Dapretto, associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Dapretto and Stephany Cox, a research assistant in Dapretto's lab, are the lead authors of the study. "Together with other recent data, our results provide further support for a mirror-neuron theory of autism."

To measure mirror-neuron activity, the research used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 12 high-functioning children with autism as they viewed and imitated faces depicting several emotional expressions, such as anger, fear, happiness or sadness. Prior to the fMRI experiment, the children's imitative behavior was measured using scores from the Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI-Revised), an instrument widely used to assess symptoms of autism. Children's empathic behavior was assessed using a child-modified version of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), a previously validated scale that assesses four distinct facets of empathy.

The researchers found that, as expected, the level of brain activity in "mirroring" areas was related to the children's tendency to spontaneously imitate others, as well as to empathize with them. Specifically, significant negative correlations were found between symptom severity on the imitation items of the ADI-R and activity in the mirror area located in the brain's right inferior frontal gyrus. Additionally, significant positive correlations were observed between children's total scores on the empathy scale and activity within this mirror area and two other key regions in the brain involved in emotional understanding and empathy, the insula and amygdala.

"Simply put," said Cox, "the more the children tended to spontaneously imitate social behaviors or to empathize with the plight of others, the more brain activity we saw in the frontal component of the mirror-neuron system in the right inferior frontal gyrus. Conversely, the greater their impairments in these domains, the less activity we saw in this mirroring brain region.

"Importantly, these results indicate that abnormalities in the mirror-neuron system may negatively affect imitative behavior," she said. "In turn, this may lead to a cascade of negative consequences for the development of key aspects of social cognition and behavior in children with autism."

The research was funded primarily by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In addition to Dapretto and Cox, the UCLA research team included Ashley Scott, Susan Bookheimer and Marco Iacoboni.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "Why Autistic Children Do Not Imitate Or Empathize: It Could Be A Dysfunctional Mirror-neuron System." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 May 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070504121241.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2007, May 4). Why Autistic Children Do Not Imitate Or Empathize: It Could Be A Dysfunctional Mirror-neuron System. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070504121241.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "Why Autistic Children Do Not Imitate Or Empathize: It Could Be A Dysfunctional Mirror-neuron System." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070504121241.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins